RRW: Shelby Houlihan Set To Build On Indoor Success at Prefontaine Classic

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

EUGENE, Ore. (25-May) — Over the winter, Shelby Houlihan showed her prowess on the 200-meter oval, defending her USA titles at both 1500m* and 3000m*, and finishing fourth and fifth at those disciplines, respectively, at the IAAF World Championships.  In all of those races the 25 year-old Olympian used her explosive closing speed to her advantage, like a cheetah running down its prey just before the kill.  She sometimes betrays the confidence she has in her speed by flashing a grin at the beginning of the bell lap.

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“Those races are the best,” Houlihan told Race Results Weekly here this morning at a coffee shop.  “When you see that (smile), that is when I feel very good going into the final lap.  That’s not always the case, but it’s mostly the kind of confidence that I have a lot left.  I’m just going to wait until the last second, and then unleash.”

Houlihan’s indoor season was initially in jeopardy when she battled a serious injury in December.  She had to play catch-up to be ready for her first indoor race in February 3rd.

“It was kind of a funny indoor season, because in December I had a stress reaction in my tibia, so I had to take two weeks completely off, just cross training,” Houlihan explained.  “And then, my first day back running was at altitude January 1, which was very hard, especially at altitude.  I was able to get back into fitness really quickly.  The altitude training definitely helped.”

Houlihan, who competed for Arizona State during her collegiate career and is now part of the Nike-sponsored Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Ore., will be competing in the 1500m here tomorrow at the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, part of the IAAF Diamond League circuit.  She’s hoping to improve on her two year-old personal best of 4:03.39, and feels confident that her most recent stint of high-altitude training in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., will give her the same kind of boost as she enjoyed prior to the indoor season.  She’s been doing her track workouts in very thin air at 7000 feet (about 2100m) while sleeping even higher at 8600 feet (about 2600m).  Remarkably, she said, her workouts have felt more like she has been doing them at sea level.

“I surprisingly handled the altitude really well,” said Houlihan, who has been logging training weeks in the 80 mile (129 km) range.  “It hasn’t felt like I’ve been at 7000 feet.  It almost feels like I’ve been at sea level.  Everything has kind of been clicking and going well.  So, I’m hoping tomorrow will feel good. But if it doesn’t, that’s sort of the name of the game.”

Under Bowerman coach Jerry Schumacher, Houlihan has benefited greatly from the support of her teammates, Shalane Flanagan, Colleen Quigley, Marielle Hall, Courtney Frerichs, Kate Grace, Gwen Jorgensen, and Amy Cragg.  Each athlete is responsible for more than just themselves, she said, and as a result they are all improving.

“I feel like the whole point of the group is we all have our different strengths and weaknesses, and working out every day I’m pushing (somebody), maybe Courtney, whose weakness is speed.  She’s improving in that aspect because I’m pulling her along.  It’s like everyone is improving on everyone’s weaknesses.  I think the huge thing is is that we’re all becoming better.”

Houlihan, who has dealt with her share of injuries, also said that the group environment helps her stay healthier.  She said, in particular, that her diet has improved.  Both Flanagan, who has published a cookbook, and Quigley are avowed foodies.

“In addition, I learned how to eat healthy,” Houlihan said.  “That’s a big thing for me.  I had no idea what I was going, nutrition-wise.  Being able to be around people like Shalane, and Colleen is really good about it.  I’ve just been picking things up, learning what works for me.  It’s been huge.”

Flanagan’s win at last November’s TCS New York City Marathon had a big impact on Houlihan.  She said that she awoke in her Portland home with about an hour left in the race, and in a little bit of a panic she switched on the television to find out what was going on.  She was able to witness Flanagan pulling away from defending champion, Kenya’s Mary Keitany, to become the first American woman to win the race 40 years.  That win filled Houlihan with both pride and joy.

“I was so excited,” recounted Houlihan.  “I was just hoping that she would be able to hold it together.”  She continued: “Just to watch her do that, when she crossed the finish line tears came to my eyes.  I was like, this is so cool that I get to watch this and call her my teammate.  I get to learn from her every day, how to be better.  That was a really cool thing to watch.”

For tomorrow’s race, Houlihan said she had no specific plan other than to be competitive.

“I’d like to PR,” Houlihan said.  “I think I’m ready to do that.  I’m just going to throw myself in it, take that confidence, and just put my nose into it.”

*In 2017 the actual distances were one mile and two miles

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